William Mead Ferris III Photographs

The photographs taken by William Mead Ferris III, a former Knox student, show World War I-era planes, ships, ambulances, storage facilities, tanks, military vehicles, and guns. While serving in the army overseas, Ferris sent these photographs home to his sister, who preserved them. Tragically, Ferris sustained serious injuries as a result of gas warfare and then contracted pneumonia. He was sent to a French hospital, where he lingered for three days and then passed away. The nurse who cared for Ferris during his last days described him as "so sweet and brave and uncomplaining."

More information about Ferris is presented on this page of the exhibit.

William Mead Ferris on a pier

William Mead Ferris III relaxes on a pier in Milwaukee

William Mead Ferris III's World War I experience started with his training at Fort Sheridan in Illinois. These photographs depict moments he recorded during his time there. 

Zeppelin interior

Zeppelin interior

The First World War was notable for the many technological advances that occurred during the war. World War I is often referred to as "the first modern war," and that was indeed the case, as new machinery changed warfare forever. Ferris' photographs visually document the rapidly evolving technologies available to armies during the war. 

Soldiers in World War I faced new horrors, including gas warfare and trench warfare. 

Ferris' photographs of the damaged European countryside provide atmosphere and context for what soldiers endured during World War I. Such desolation inspired T.S. Eliot's magnum opus "The Wasteland," in which Eliot writes,

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief
And the dry stone no sound of water. 

These words express the ruin much of Europe fell into during the First World War.

Ferris documented some of the men he encounted during his time in the war, but he left no notes about the identities of the men he photographed.

William Mead Ferris III Photographs